Schrodinger’s Barbara Anderson

The dream stayed in my mind, like the residue of honey in a refilled cup of coffee. It’s not there, not even the memory of the dream is there, nothing but something akin to a psychic aftertaste, something floating around in the mind like a speck of red dust in the air, reflected by sunlight for a moment in time, picked up by imperceptible currents in the room, before drifting back into the shadow near your closet.

It’s still there, it still exists, you know for a fact it does, but you also know you couldn’t find it, and by looking for it, by trying to define it, you would pollute and distort it, change it so completely as to destroy the vision entirely.

How can it be both there, not there, remembered, not remembered, forgotten, not forgotten, Schrodinger’s Cat, with your conscious being the radioactive isotope, that triggers the poison. Your subconscious doesn’t know if there was a dream, or if you dreamed there was a dream, but the if you look for it, you kill the dream.

Perhaps the same part of your mind that forgets people one millisecond after you’ve been introduced is responsible for remembering your dreams. It’s a faulty device, battered by television shows, bumper sticker politics, and Prosperity Religion. If you spent more time reading, you’re remember what you had dreamt in more details, and Barbra Anderson’s name after you met her.

You can feel it, can’t you? You know it’s there. You meet someone and you’re looking at her, she’s speaking to you, and her name was said out loud, you shook hands with her, and now you’re scrolling through names in your head without a road sign or a map to help.

Feels just like when you’re trying to remember a dream, doesn’t it?

When was the last time you did remember a dream? The dreamscape, the setting of the dream, was it familiar only while you were there, or it is a real place? The people, were they characters in your life, or did they only exist in your slumber? Perhaps there was fear, some creature that meant you harm, were you lost, were you missing someone, was there abject terror of death, fire, falling, bullets, bears, or Johnny with an ax?

Maybe that’s why we don’t remember dreams, it’s a self-defense mechanism keeping us from screaming during the day while we remember what happened in our sleep. And perhaps, for mechanisms we cannot quite comprehend, it’s the same reason we forget the names of strangers.

Take Care,

Mike

Fleas for Sale

I went to a flea market today, a rather large one, and went early to avoid the rush. It was cooler than was comfortable, the wind was blowing, and the feeling of being out of place cut deeper than the cold.

The older woman selling honey growled the price out, her tone of voice suggesting anyone who wanted the honey badly enough would somehow discern the price, perhaps telepathically. Dressed for the Artic as she was, perhaps she feared a transaction might somehow weaken her defenses against the soon to arrive blizzard or distract her while a polar bear ambushed us both. Her gray hair was pulled back and stuffed into something that mostly resembled a hat, and her face was crinkled with deep grooves that spoke of poverty and bad choices with men who came into her life like trees falling onto a house. I moved on.

It’s a covered flea market, with a few enclosed shops, but mostly just a roof, with nothing to slow the wind down. Smokers with their cigarettes can be smelled a mile away, and some guy selling cheap tools is talking loud enough to be heard over the smoke.

“They ain’t gonna do it,” his voice rising with the power of his opinion, “I bet they ain’t, com’on, you bet me, they ain’t gonna do it,” and he takes his white cowboy hat off and waves it at imaginary betters in the air. He’s one of those big hat, big belly, big belt buckle men, with a shirt that’s red and white checkered, like someone stole a picnic tablecloth and tortured it with a sewing machine. The tools on the table, still in a package, are lightweight, no steel or iron, and they’ll break during hard work. But this is a man who is putting on a show, advancing on the would be customers like ants at a campground, who brought their own picnic tablecloth. Meanwhile the three guys he’s talking to, slowly back away, not gambling against his info. One of them gets far enough away to turn around and make a break for the next stall, and the other two now have an excuse to follow. Cowboy Hat Man snorts, and looks around for his next audience, but I’m on the move.

I was once good at this, navigating crowds, weaving in and out of people effortlessly, a shadow barely seen or heard or felt, but it’s been too long now. The Plague has sapped me of my invisibility. Stopping, sidestepping, waiting for people to move, my glide is gone, the people moving the wrong way at the wrong time, and collisions nearly occur.  

Another shop is selling confederate flags, but near the back, in plastic packages, not on the wall like they once did. There’s a flag from the old Soviet Union, hammer and sickle, and it’s not being flown either. More cheap tools, but this time power tools, deeply discounted, in case you need a power saw for one project, you’d likely get it. Machetes, two for ten dollars, or five-fifty for one, thin, cheaply processed metal, and you couldn’t hack your way out of your 70’s girlfriend’s pubic hair with that thing.

Used clothes, more clothes, clothes, clothes, clothes for sell, dresses, jeans, shoes, and even hats for sale. The jeans are going for twenty bucks, a green down jacket for twenty-five, and this morning that’s a bargain, and I wonder who owned that jacket, and why they sold it, and how the jacket came to be here.

A teenager, young girl, is sitting in a chair at a small table, not seeing me, not seeing anything at all. She’s the daughter or granddaughter of the shop owner, and if this girl was holding a gun on you it would be your last moment on earth and you would be certain.

Her eyes are boring a hole through the air, through everything there, the people, the used clothes, the treason rag, the flimsy machetes, the parking lot, the hostile honey salesperson, and nothing from the outside world can break through that stare.

I want to sit down next to her, and ask her why the stare. With someone who is a young teen, it could be social media, or it could be she’s trying to figure out why her body and mind are going through what they’re going through. It could be the cold boredom, endless, dirty, smokey, cold boredom, of used retail, cheap clothes off dead people sold to the dying. Or it could be worse, much worse, as she found a hidden camera in her bedroom, and her new stepfather is creepy. Tell her Mom about it? Not tell Mom? Tell social media, tell no one, silence encourages aggression, she already knows that, and that stare is trying to decide if she walks away right now, into the abyss of the world, would it be that much worse than what awaits her in her own home? The stare lazars its way through me, past the greasy food stands, past the shop selling boom boxes, past the used CDs, past the next state and the next country and into deep space, but she will find no help anywhere anymore.

Moving quickly now, the mojo is returning, and I dodge those who are milling around like cattle in a pen, grazing on anything that might be slightly interesting in the cold stockyard of the flea market. It’s time to go, time to get away from this place, and as I leave the old woman with the honey calls out, wanting my money, even though she rather not speak to me again. I pull out, another car pulls in behind me, and someone will buy fleas here today, I think.

Take Care,

Mike

Exit

I remember seeing Greg at Exit 16 for the first time. An odd sight, for there to be someone I knew, someone I had worked with, someone who I had drank with, and someone who was going to college at some point, living under the overpass of I-75. But there he was, sitting, waiting, and homeless.

There were drugs involved, also stealing, cheating people out of money, lying, and it was the lying that seemed to be the worst part of it. Greg became a living lie, with every word and every sentence based on creating a narrative that would somehow transfer money from someone else to his use. Greg and I had reached the logical conclusion to our friendship when he stole from me. Trust was no longer possible, and no longer feasible. But Greg had run out of friends entirely and run out of second chances with anyone he had ever known.

If there’s any truth in the story, Greg’s family had worked hard to get him into college, get him where no one in their family had ever been, and he lasted one year. Cocaine was Greg’s thing, because it represented a lifestyle he could only bear witness to by watching television. Greg and I both worked at Shoney’s, the one on Ashley Street, and I remember him telling me he wanted to be a cocaine dealer. Greg got into crack instead, and he stole his father’s truck, and then looted his family’s home, and sold everything he could put in the truck at a pawn shop. He did that to his girlfriend’s mother, having a yard sale at her house while she was at work. And he stole stuff from his roommates. They threw his stuff out into the yard, and Greg set his bed up in the yard, close to the street. I drove by when I heard about it, and sure enough, there was Greg lying on his bed, in the open, in the yard. The first big rain ended that, and Greg retreated to Exit 16.

For not the first, and not the last time, I stopped and picked Greg up, took him to get something to eat, and turned down every request he made for money, and that was a nonstop thing with Greg. The year was 1985 or maybe ’86. I moved away in 1992, and didn’t give Greg a second thought until I saw him at Exit 16 again, but this time it was 2004.

People who have lived on the road for a while, and I’m talking about those with substance abuse problems, have a smell. Not the unwashed smell of someone who has been working all day in the sun, but a sour smell, of chemicals and alcohol seeping out of their bodies. Frequent walking in the sun bakes them, dries them out, fries their already tormented skin, and they begin to look a lot older than they already are. Being homeless is stressful. There’s no telling who or what is going to happen to you. Greg was now missing teeth from fighting with other homeless people, and someone had thrown something out of a car window and hit him, or so he said. Lies, lies, and more lies, Greg had a narrative of his life as someone who just needed a little more help, just a little more, and he would change.

I’d buy Greg food but never give him money, and someone gave Greg a job about the time I found out he was still in this area. He got fired for panhandling during lunch, with his employer telling him not to lie to people about needing work when he was on his lunch break. The man fired Greg after one day.

I went a very long time not hearing from Greg, and not hearing anything about him. I worked two interstate construction projects, and met a guy who knew him, or claimed to, anyway. Finally, about five years ago someone called me to say Greg’s body had been found along I-75 in Florida. He was off the right of way, in a patch of trees and bushes, and died there, apparently. His body had decomposed to the point there was no way to identify it. Because he was considered homeless and not missing, there was no one out there looking for him, so the body was cremated, and that was that. The only way anyone ever knew who he was is they took X-rays of his teeth and that matched dental records when they finally got a match. I’m not sure how all that works. But his former girlfriend saw me one day at the gym and told me. Apparently, the ashes were already gone by the time anyone even knew Greg was dead.

I saw Susan again today, she saw me, but she was with her family and I know she didn’t want to talk about how I once fit into her life. I was a friend of her boyfriend, and I was there when he was working, and people trusted him. We went out and drank beer, shot pool, ate food we can’t eat anymore without gaining weight, and I remember Susan and I talking once time, about how odd it was that each individual in that tiny bar had come from somewhere else, yet we were all there, at that very point on Earth, at that very point in time, and it was all very unlikely, yet we were. Now, she and her husband are meeting the kids for coffee before church, and there are small people who look like grandchildren with them.

Somewhere out there, unlikely people are meeting for the first time, or seeing one another for the last time, and as unlikely as their meeting might be, it still occurred, and there may or they may not be, some memory of it stored in the brain of a person, or maybe ten. Then one day, one of those people might die along the interstate, thousands of people passing as a funeral procession, and no one knows how death came or where it went next. Like an endless stream, people in your life come and go, and then one day, the last person who remembers you will be gone, and the last person who remembers that person will die, too. And nothing you ever remembered will still be with here, at least not from your point of view.

Take Care,

Mike

My Date With A Cannibal

She was an angry woman, someone who had been wronged, and clearly, she was one of those people who rather be anywhere else than where she was, no matter who she was with. I didn’t want to do the bar thing, so I signed up on Match and started trying to shed a divorce that had begun to stick to me like a second skin. We were like two in that, she and I. Neither of us knew it at the time, but what we had in common was invisible, and both of us, once we realized it, had to part forever.

We met at Books-a-Million, and from the first few minutes, I thought she was about to get up and walk out. But we had read enough books to find comfort in trying to figure out what else there might be. She wrote poetry, but rarely, and I wrote too much fiction. There was a movie we both wanted to see, so we sat in the dark and in silence, which is what movies are good for, in the final truth. After a while, we held hands and watched the credits roll.

“I hear there’s a good Mexican place in Quitman,” she said, and I offered to buy her dinner there. She followed me to the restaurant, and we drank Margaritas and listened to a couple sing slightly off key.

We said our goodbyes at her car, and she told me it had been a great time but it was the wrong man at the wrong time, and if it was okay, we needed to part ways. I had just paid a lot of money to be shut of a woman so I knew it was a gift to be able to simply walk away.

I pulled into my driveway and she pulled in behind me. “Let not talk about it, okay?” and we didn’t. We smoked a little pot she had, drank Scotch that I had, and very slowly, but most certainly, she allowed me to ease her into my bedroom.

About three in the morning, she got up and dressed by the light in the bathroom, and I propped up on one elbow and watched.

“Left at the driveway, right at the light in town, right?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Don’t call me, please,” she said.

“Why?”

“I’m married,” she said and neither of us spoke again as she left.

It was another couple of months, and I was still adrift in the sea of unhappy people looking for other unhappy people on computer screens, and a text popped up. She showed up at my house an hour or so later, and she looked happier, somewhat, but we still didn’t want to talk about it.

“I got divorced,” she said, “but I’m not looking for anything right now.”

“Why are you here?” I asked. I had almost fallen asleep.

“I thought you’d get a kick out what happened when I left here last time. I went home. I had been gone most of the day, most of the night, and when I walked into the house my husband was sitting in his chair playing some video game with three of his friends, just like they were when I left. None of them had so much as changed positions. I don’t think he realized I had been gone. I sat and watched them play, knowing they would be there, endless hours followed by endless hours. I propped my feet up on the arm of his chair and cleaned my nails by scraping them against my teeth. There were tiny pieces of your skin under my nails. I held each piece in my mouth, just letting it sit there a bit, then I swallowed them. Pieces of someone else inside of me, in more ways than one, and me just a couple of feet away from a man who wasn’t aware who I was anymore,” she said.

“That’s fucked up,” I said, fully awake now.

“That’s marriage,” she said, and I never saw her again.

Take Care,

Mike

Four-Thirty AM

It’s just after four in the morning and for reasons unknown, sleep has abandoned me. Tis an odd thing, night is, for I can hear the sound of a car, or a truck, out there in the dark, tires whining on the road, and it’s not a noise that is always heard. The acoustics here differ from season to season, temperature to temperature, raining to dry, so it’s not just the very real and very human ability to ignore or to tune out. The pitch of the sound gets higher as the car, or truck, gets closer, then it fades away, someone heading towards Quitman, or perhaps they’ll be home before then. Good to be home at this time of day, or at least somewhere you want to be.

She’s still bothers me, that young woman. She’s still stuck in my mind, still hanging around, and as of yet I haven’t had a chance to put her to fiction. She’s still too real, too immediate, and still unknown. It was 2009, and I was working nights on the Interstate. The shifts were ten hours, at a minimum, and sometimes a lot longer. A four month project had morphed into an eight month project, and the summer nights were getting longer. I was tired, more tired than I realized I could be, but I was driving home, at last, and now, sitting here, I wonder if that night someone heard my truck, and wondered where I was going. I lived twenty-five miles from the office where my truck had to be parked, and that morning, close to the time it is right now, just three and a half miles from home, there was a car in the middle of the road.

Deer wander out into the road, and they get hit by cars, and it’s usually catastrophic for both animal and vehicle. The deer are usually killed, if they’re lucky, and this one was very dead. Its body lay open in the night, steaming in the cooler air, eyes wide open in horror, and the front end of the car looked as bad. But the driver was a young woman. In a different light, she might have been pretty, or cute, or attractive in some way. There was no reason for her not to be, except her eyes. There was something about the way she looked at me, looked at the deer, or maybe she carried something inside that gave her that looked; wide eyed, intense, yet at the same time, there was something else there, rage, wrath, an anger, something I still cannot define, meth maybe, or maybe something else that I’ve never run into.

“You have to get me to Tallahassee,” she said. Those were the first words she spoke, and in my younger days, I might have done it, just to see what would happen. But after a ten hour shift on the interstate, I wasn’t looking for crazy. I told her I would call 911 for her.

“You fucking asshole,” she screams at me, the sound incredibly loud in the night. And pulls her hair back with both hands, stalks back to the car, and then back to me again.

See the flashlight in the photo? It’s like a relic from a different age now, long, large, steel casing, and heavy. Four D cell batteries, like no one uses anymore, add even more mass, and there’s a reason cops once carried these, other than illumination; they make great clubs. Whatever she was on, what she might have been, or whatever she intended, I was pretty sure hitting her in the face with that flashlight would keep her off of me. Think about it. Here’s man who only wants to go home and get some rest, if not sleep. He stops to help a young woman. She’s all strung out or possessed. Suddenly, a man who has never hit a woman in his entire life, is thinking this might be the one chick that does something so weird he’s entering the realm of physical violence with her.

“That close enough,” I tell her, and she stops, and looks at me, as if she just noticed I was there.

“You can tow my car to Tallahassee,” the woman says. Her accent isn’t right. She isn’t Southern, but I can’t nail it down.

“Not about to, ma’am, but I’ll give you a ride into Quitman, or I’ll call 911,” I tell her, but there is no way in hell she’s getting into my truck.

“I’ll pay you when we get there,” and this is a demand, not a request. She’s restless, pacing, tossing her hair out of her eyes, her fingers moving like the fuses of lit firecrackers, and I plant my right foot. This is going to end poorly.

“You need to get me to Tallahassee, motherfucker,” and her voice rises again.

“Look,” I tell her, “two options, I leave you here, or I call 911, and leave you here,” I tell her, “but you see that security light about half a mile on the right? That’s the Andersons. They have three black labs. They’ll kill you if you go up there. Okay?” And I take a couple of steps back.

“Fuck you,” she snarls, but she gets back into her car.

Know when it’s time to go, and then go a minute before that time. I walk back to the truck and pull around her.

I call 911 when I get home, and they tell me they’ve just got a call from her.

 

Chances are, the sound from the tires is someone going home, or maybe going to work. I spent most of my adult life doing that, going to work early, coming back home late, and I hope like hell I’m done with that now. But somewhere out there, are very strange people, and maybe one of them is that young woman, eleven years older now. If she survived herself, and whatever else she was doing, she might be pushing thirty now. Maybe even older. I find myself wondering what she was doing, what drug, what substance, to change her like that, or maybe that was her authentic true self, but I strongly doubt it.

What if she’s looking for me?

The sound of tires are gone now, and in their place is the sound of that night, the engine cooling and creaking, the drip of fluids out of the car’s dead engine, the sound of insects buzzing, and the sound of her footsteps as she paced back and forth. I have to get up and write now. For whatever unknown Demons might have stalked that woman, I know which ones have their claws in me. I have to write. This is where I have to be towed.

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

Abernathy

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Someone I once met bought a huge roll top desk for five hundred bucks at an estate sale. Took four grown men to get it out of the house, and back into his. The thing was a monster, a small cottage could have been built out of the wood in that desk. I’ve always wanted one, but at the same time, I’m not sure a desk, any desk, is worth five hundred dollars. No, I tend to drift towards going to estate sales at homes that might have a hardback copy of “Dune” in great condition. Or a box full of paperbacks for a dollar.

I’ve tried, really, truly, I’ve tried to stop collecting books, ever since 2006, when I gave about three thousand of them away. I had stacks of books all over the damn house, and finally released them back into the wild, giving them all to the Brooks County Library. But I’m drawn to books. They are the only source of manmade magic to believe in. Everywhere there’s a journey there’s a search for books. Who cares what a woman looks like, really, if she’s read the right books. If you can sit across from a woman at a table and she tells you that “Stranger in a Strange Land” changed her life, you can go anywhere with her, and be happy.

The hand painted sign read, “Estate Sale”, and who paints a sign for an estate sale, and that’s enough for me to go in. All of the stuff  on the screened in porch, which is dipping forward just enough to tell, and there isn’t much of what there is. Clothes, that will be eventually donated, a stack of vinyl records, mostly very old R&B and gospel, and a collection of kitchen knickknacks litter the porch. There’s a pair of boots older than I was at the time. A worn copy of some book without a cover has a tag on it reading “5 cents” and it is time to go.

There’s a suit, and the material looks good, really good, and I stop to examine it. It’s old, very old, thin, and it had seen its better days decades ago.

“Abernathy,” the man sitting in a chair at the door says, and for a moment I didn’t realize he was speaking to me.

“Oh?” I encourage him. I shouldn’t, but why not?

“His mama named him that, wanted him to be a preacher, but it never took,” the man tells me. “She bought him that suit when he got out of high school. Gave him that suit and a bible and told him that God would speak to him.”

“Did God speak to him?” I ask.

“If’n he did, Ab didn’t hear, and if he heard he didn’t listen, Ab liked to play drums but the drums didn’t like Ab,” and the man laughed. “Didn’t have a musical nut in his sack.”

“How old was he?”

“Ab lived to be eighty, but mostly he died ten years before that,” the man stood up and stretched, keeping on hand on the door jamb to balance. “because them doctors had him doped up on pills and things. Ab couldn’t remember his own name, forgot about music, he weren’t never no good but he sho liked to listen. Had him a band he played in once, and they never was good enough to charge money. Background noise, something to hear, but nothing to listen to a’tall, is how I called’em.”  The man sat down and stared at the wooden floor. He could hear the music now, through much younger ears, and even though it wasn’t great music, or even good music, it was something that glued his past together.

“They played in this very house, had all the drums jammed in so tight Ab could hardly move, not that it hurt’im none. They played loud, and we drank to help, and it did some, and he always wore that suit. Made him look like he was gonna go to a funeral for the music, I said that one night, and everybody laughed so hard Ab stopped playing, and he never picked up a stick again. Never wore it again, that suit, never put it back on. Took his drums, and all that shit that went with it, to the pawn shop, and drank it away in less than a week.”  The man stared back into the house now, and I could hear it; terribly play music played far too loud, for drunk friends who were just trying to find an excuse to be there.

“Folks kidded Ab, they were mean about it, and said he once got arrested for playing music too loud, but the judge had heard Ab play, and said it wasn’t music,” the man laughed hard at that, and slapped his knee. “Ab took it hard, he did, he ain’t played a lick since that night, and he ain’t listened to no music like he once did. But the day he died his ex come over and played them records over there one by one, until Ab passed. Then she put’em down where she found’em and she walked out, again, and didn’t never come back no more.” The man stopped speaking for a while, and looked up, to see if I was still there.

“Good woman, Dorothy Ann was. Ab and her had two young’ens and they didn’t grow up to be preachers either. Both dead before they was old enough to drive. Wild things, went off and stole a car, wrecked it and burned. Dot’Ann done left after that. Came back to see Ab die, but it was more than that. She saw the last of her babies that day, too, both of’em spittin’ image of their daddy.” The man was staring at the warped and twisted porch wood now. It was time for me to leave, and I knew it.

 

End.

Cold

Back a few years ago, we had a period of cold weather that lasted for about a month. The pond had ice on it every day, at least in the parts shaded by trees, the pipe in the pump house burst, and it was ungodly cold all the damn time.  This week, we’ve had three days of freezing weather, twenty-eight degrees as a low, and it looks like that’s it for the month of January, 2020. The gnats are back, the mosquitoes were really bad last week, and there’s grass high enough to mow in the yard right now.

The middle of last May was incredibly hot. Not just warm, but triple digit heat in the day, high humidity, and night that were unbearable without AC.

 

I woke up at four this morning, couldn’t get back to sleep, and decided to get up, and write. Since I retired, there’s been this reoccurring theme from some people that we humans have to have a schedule, and we have to have a routine, because that’s the sort of animals we are. But I haven’t one in over three months, and I’m not looking for one, either. I like the idea of getting out of bed when I can’t sleep and writing. I’m not late for a damn thing, am I?

 

If I don’t go out with the dogs they’ll U turn, and pretend they peed on the grass, and right after they eat they’ll really have to go. So I go out, in freezing weather, to make sure they pee. They’re all curled up tight and sleeping again right now. But the stars were incredible in the cold early morning darkness, and an orange crescent moon was slung low in the southern sky, barely awake. I couldn’t get a decent photo of it, I wish I had either the equipment or the knowledge for such work, but I rather hone my writing skills than learn photography this morning. The urge to write right now seems urgent.

 

Decades ago, a few years before I took the job that I would retire from, I worked as a circulation manager for the Valdosta Daily Times. One night I was riding with one of the carriers and saw the moon, a low slung crescent in the night sky, and that was all that mattered at the moment, to see the moon. It’s important to pay attention to what the moon is doing, what the moon is saying at the moment, and acknowledge that everyone on Earth who has ever lived, and had the gift of sight, has seen the same moon. It’s a commonality of humanity. It should be. We should all take time to moon gaze, and it see it as an undying memorial to our endurance. The same magic that early humans felt, long before we landed there, I feel when I look at the slightly orange crescent caught in the branches of the trees around the pond. The magic seeped into my bones as a child and never left me. I feel sorry for those people who never look up, never stop and stare, and never feel the moon.

 

The crescent will be smaller tomorrow morning. It’s waning, and soon will be a sliver, or a smile, depending on the position. There will be nights of near total darkness and the stars will shine brightly, then the moon will return, again. It matters not at all if I am here to see it, for many more people who stood and enjoyed the view are not here.

 

Yesterday, I noticed it was six in the afternoon, and not quite yet dark. The days are getting longer, and they have been since the last part of December, but only now has it become noticeable. The sun is also rising further south than before, and now, after enjoying the sunlight reflecting off the moon, I see the eastern sky begin to brighten somewhat. Out in the ocean, on some boat, someone is watching the sunrise, but I must wait awhile yet.

 

For some reason, I cannot explain to you, a memory summoned to the surface, of a young woman I knew, who liked being in relationships, but also liked cheating. Her boyfriend caught her, confronted her, and she denied it, knowing as long as he didn’t actually see her doing anything, deny, deny, deny. They were in bed having this conversation, and he held her down, handcuffed her hands behind her back, duct taped her feet together, and then tossed her into the trunk of her car. At that point, she was truly afraid he was going to kill her. He took her out in the country, went down a field road, and dumped her on the ground, and drove away. It was below freezing and no matter how loud she screamed, no one came.

An hour so later, he came back, brought her clothes with him, uncuffed and untied her, and he drove her to the police station and got out of the car, and told her he was walking home. She sat there a while, then picked him up, and they stayed together for years after that.

 

One night she told me that while she was in the field, her naked body lying on the freezing ground, and she was wondering which worst case scenario might occur and cause her untimely death, she looked up at the sky and realized the moon was new, and the stars overhead looked incredible. And for a brief moment in her life, despite the fact that truly believed she was going to die, in one fashion or another, she realized that in that one moment, she defined her ability to rise above her own mortality.

 

I had never had anyone tell me anything more perfectly beautiful in my life.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

Switch, and Where I’ve Been

It’s been a while, I realize that, and a lot has gone on. I’m retired. As of October the first, that was it. I no longer have a full time job with a steady paycheck and health insurance. Pretty good thing the health insurance carried over; I was hospitalized with perforated diverticulitis a month ago and underwent major surgery to have part of my intestines cut out and the gap sewn back together. I no longer have the whole nine yards. I’m a foot short.

I spent the first month of retirement in a state of I’m-on-vacation mode, and it just seemed like that. It didn’t really start to sink in that by career was over until November. But, by the middle of November, I knew something wasn’t right inside of me, but I thought it was just my hernia acting up. I could not have been more wrong.

 

The good thing about all of this, and you have to think it’s all good, is being infirm has forced me back to the keyboard. For the last two weeks I’ve been working on a short story and got it finished. I’ll rewrite it at least once, maybe twice, but I like the story, and I like the ending.

 

“Switch” is the story of a nineteen year old frat boy from a wealthy family. He’s going to college in Valdosta Georgia, and has the world at his feet. Conner is arrogant and predatory, and he knows he can get away with doing anything he wants to women. He preys on the wrong woman, who happens to be a witch. She’s been stalking him for a while, knows who he is, and what he does. Conner tries to rape Glenni by drugging her drink, but she’s already slipped a potion into Conner’s beer. The world goes black, and Conner wakes up in Glenni’s body, and in Glenni’s apartment. She’s switched bodies and worlds with Conner, and now he has to live like a woman working for tips at a bar, while Glenni goes forth to live as a frat boy in college. She looks like she’s in her early twenties, but Glenni is eighty-five. The frat will never be the same.

Meanwhile, Conner is freaked out. Without his cell he can’t call anyone he knows, and Glenni has warned him she’s gotten a restraining order to keep him away from the frat house. Besides, no matter what Conner tells anyone, he’s still in the body of a woman. No one is going to believe him.

Things get worse. Conner has no idea how to put on makeup or how to deal with his hair. Glenni’s hair is a black mane of thick curls that have a mind of their own. His first night at work at the bar ends with Conner getting fired, and then sexually assaulted in the parking lot by a customer who Conner pissed off. Conner discovers no one cares. So what? So a man stuck his hand down your pants and he squeezed your breasts? Minor stuff, kid. No one cares. Conner is stunned by the indifference. But he remembers he’s done things like that, many times, and nothing ever happened to him.

Rent, bills, food, a flat tire he’s unable to fix by himself.  Glenni’s left him with an ancient cell phone, a lap top that’s ten years old, and a bank account that’s nearly dry. There’s food in the refrigerator, but it’s healthy vegan type stuff and a very little to Conner’s liking.

 

Conner gets help changing his tire from a guy living in the apartment next to his own, and one part of the curse Conner never considered kicks in; Conner isn’t just a guy stuck in a woman’s body, oh no, Conner is a straight woman, with a guy trapped inside of her. After a few beers and a watching football with his new pal, Conner’s body starts interacting with the pheromones in the air. And true to so many stories, just as Conner heats up, his period arrives, and because he’s never really thought about what women go through once a month, every damn month, for about five days, Conner handles it as poorly as you’d think.

I’ve had some very interesting conversations with a couple of women I know about how it feels to be attracted to a guy. Like the first signs, and then as things heat up, the first real issues with the female body and sexual attraction, especially when the woman is trying not to be attracted to a guy. It’s been very educational.

 

Conner, despite the fact that he’s a straight guy, falls for the boy next door, and terrible things happen. Well, terrible for Conner. The guy next door simply leaves.

 

Glenni shows up and is somewhat tickled at what’s happened to Conner, but she’s also concerned. The curse wasn’t supposed to go this deep, or to change Conner’s sexual orientation, but curses have a mind of their own, sometimes. She’s unable to change anything about the curse, because the very essence of the spell is that Conner has to learn how to break it himself. Considering the mess Conner has made in a very short time, she now doubts he will survive as a poor woman in South Georgia.

 

Will Conner be able to pay his bills? What do very poor women do when they have no money, no job skills, and they have no real friends or family? Conner finds out.

 

 

 

In the end, will things switch over? Hmmm, we’ll see.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

The Woman on Treadmill #8

 

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“I fell asleep during sex once,” she said in the dark, “and when I woke up I realized he hadn’t noticed.”

After twenty years of marriage, three kids, and seeing one of them off to college and the other two in High School, she and her husband sat down on night and divided the assets. She got the house, the place where the kids would all return to, like ghosts with growing pains, who were the first to notice their family was dying. She had been an eighteen year old, right out of high school and he was the boy she fell in love with. They spent four years in poverty with two kids until he graduated from college with a degree in business and he did well for her, and the kids. She wanted the big house by the man made lake with the man made cookie cutter subdivision, the soccer mom thing, and that was exactly what she got. It was perfect. Or at least it looked perfect, and that was, after all, enough.

They both agreed, no dating until everything was final, and no bringing home one night stands around the kids. It was a surreal conversation she told me, because it had been nearly twenty years since anyone but her husband had seen her naked. After three kids and twenty years of going to the gym a few times a year, she realized there was a lot of work to be done before she could think about a lover that didn’t have a wall charger.

 

He was cheating, had a girlfriend, she was certain of it, but he was discreet as hell, and never brought it home with him in any way. He was a good father, and a good person. They still went to church together, still socialized with the same people, still attended school functions as one, but that was going to end, and this was his way of telling her he would be taking someone else to those events. She wanted to care. She wanted to be hurt by being replaced. She wanted to feel something, rage, anger, sorrow, anything, by losing this man, but there was nothing there at all.

She had cried, silently, alone, while sitting in the minivan. It had been their first family car, twenty years ago, and it had lasted five years, but it was time for an upgrade. But this vehicle had been solid and reliable transportation for all the kids, even the newborn, her last, she knew, and this car bore witness to her transformation from a young woman to a mom. He never noticed the tears or if he did, knew better to ask unless he wanted to hear about it, and he didn’t.

 

They approached child raising as two people committed to crisis management. The constant pressure of food, clothing, waste, entertainment, training, education, and the limited amount of time in each day left them both seeing the other as a co-worker, or wait staff, someone friendly only because that was part of the job. It wasn’t always like that, she said, her voice catching on words she had never spoken aloud before, but it sank, slowly, no matter how hard they bailed the water out of the boat. Bills, school programs, sleep overs, the never ending need for more stuff and more room, and suddenly, he was sleeping on the bean bag in his office a couple of times a week, and to her this was glorious. She had her tubes tied after the last child, and he had a vasectomy. She knew what it meant, but she didn’t care anymore. Tying her tubes mean she would never have to go through this again, after this kid was old enough, her time as a mom to little kids would end. That was something she looked forward to, with glee, and dreaded.

 

Emily, the youngest child, a strange creature who entered high school with perfect grades and a love for Saturday morning cartoons, was a year younger than her classmates, jumped two grades, but light years ahead of everyone. She was the one who sat her parents down and said, “Fix it or fuck it, but don’t fucking rot for it.”

 

But it was already gone, and it had been. They sat down one rare night with all the kids gone and drank two bottles of wine. They split up assets and decided he would leave, take his truck, take the guns, except her pistol, leave the two dogs and the cat, take the boat, please for the love of God take the fucking boat, and then it was a question of small things, who got the good cooler, and who would get the nice plates. He was a nice person. He would get a place of his own, big enough for the kids to come and go, and he wouldn’t take anything she needed, he would get new stuff, and she was good with that. The old stuff comforted her. She didn’t like change, and realized that was part of the reason he was still in the same house as she was but then suddenly he was gone.

Her friends threw a party for her. It was fun. She had forgotten fun. She laughed and drank too much, and listened to women who had gone through this process describe what sex was like the first time after the marriage was gone. After everyone had left she looked at the woman standing naked in front of the mirror and wondered if she could get a man drunk enough to sleep with her. It was time to start training her body to do more than drive a taxi for the kids.

 

The younger women had perfect bodies and merciless souls. All of them were molded from the purest clay, and some of them, even those who were still in their late teens, had implants. Or at least they looked like they did. Most of them shaved their pubic hair, and she still looked like she was giving birth to a wooly mammoth. There was spin classes, and boot camp classes, and Yoga classes, and she threw herself into fitness as an escape from her life, which still required her to be the mom, but now with one kid who had his own car, and another who was independent of all things human, she had time. But she didn’t know what to do with those hours that occurred when she was alone.

 

“I think you have my keys,” she said to me. I was on treadmill # 8 and she was standing here beside it, looking a little embarrassed.

“I have your keys?” I asked, slowing the machine down to a walk. “Did you leave them at my house last night?”

“God no, I mean I think they’re in the cup holder of the machine,” she laughed and blushed.

I looked in the cup holders. No keys.

“You have beautiful eyes,” I told her, “and a good laugh.”

“Thank you, may I have my keys?” she said, but she was smiling.

“They aren’t here,” I told her.

“You’re messing with me,” she laughed, “come on, I have to pick my daughter up.”

“Here,” I said, and I cut the machine off and stepped to the other side. She got on the treadmill and picked my keys up but hers was not to be found.

“Are you married?” I asked.

“No,” she said, looking at her left hand. The smiling stopped. “I have to go.”

 

“I’m pushing forty,” she said the first time we were alone. “I’ve had three kids, eaten junk food for dinner three times a week for twenty years. There’s a dozen women in that building who are my age that look a lot better. You’re going to get scared off once you see me nude.”

“So you’re telling me I’m going to see you nude?” I leered at her, and she laughed hard. More than anything else, she told me later that night, she missed someone who could make her laugh.

 

“I met my husband’s girlfriend at his place one day,” she said, the flickering candle the only light in the room. “She wasn’t the young bimbo type at all. I feared that. I was afraid he’s go out and find someone who would take him for a ride. But she was about my age, and had been around the block once or twice. It was a little awkward, to see the two of them sitting together on the new sofa, and I could tell she had spent the night. She was really civil to me, very well mannered, but this was her turf, and that was her man now. She asked me if it was okay if she got Emily a leather bound set of Harry Potter for Emily’s birthday, and I told her I thought it was perfect. That was when I decided to start looking for someone, too. If he could do that well, hell, there was no telling who I might find.” She put her hand on my shoulder and kissed me.

“I’m moving,” she told me a few months later.  “My oldest got a job in New Mexico, and his wife is pregnant. Emily is going to stay. It’s time for me to get out of this part of the world.”  We went out for dinner one night and then went back to her place, which was filled with chaos and packing boxes. Her ex had gotten married, and finally, she felt something, something akin to loss, something that was a sharp stick, and it hurt.

 

Take Care,

Mike

Homeless.

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Gayle Hardman was a homeless person when she died. She didn’t die in her car, which I was happy to hear, but she did die in a hotel without no one around who knew her, or cared. I’m glad she died, at least, warm and safe, because those were two things Gayle didn’t have a lot of towards the end. Gayle made cheap jewelry, but it was nice stuff, neatly made and beautiful. I’m angry there isn’t some sort of help for people like Gayle. I’m still mad about it, and Gayle has been dead for a couple of years now. I miss her.

 

Greg was someone I knew in the mid 80’s, and I still remember the day he told me he wanted to deal cocaine for a living. We were both working at Shoney’s as dishwashers, and it’s hard to explain to someone that dealing cocaine isn’t something you just start doing as a means of employment. Greg started a very, very slow descent into chronic unemployment. He would buy cocaine, sell some of it, but use the rest of it. The amount sold versus the amount used began to swing hard in the direction of use, and eventually, his roommates began to get tired of him. The drugs were one thing, everyone was young back then, drugs were common and accepted, but the lack of rent money wasn’t. Greg started stealing food from his two roommates and they put up with it for a while, but then they started missing other things as well. They began to torment him, the way young men will torment one another, and one day they hid the toilet paper from him and Greg had to go to a Hardee’s to wipe. I think that was a turning point of sorts. Greg had reached a zone of poverty, self inflicted poverty, that excluded the very basics of living. He had pushed people to the point they no longer cared about him.

 

When they kicked him out, Greg rode around with everything he owned in his car for a while. His bed sat in their front yard, near the street, and I think he actually slept in it until it rained one night and ruined it. Greg lived with his girlfriend, Susan, until she broke up with him, and then he lived in her mother’s garage until he held a yard sale one day, and sold a lot of her stuff while she was at work. Greg was homeless. Worse, he was unemployed, and Greg began a life of truly petty thievery.

 

I let him crash on my couch a few times, let him take a shower at my place, but things started disappearing. Greg once stole some sticky notes from me. I had a pad of sticky notes on my coffee table and he stuck them in his pocket before he left. Sticky notes. What was he going to do, pawn them? Yeah, I got these primo sticky notes here, can you give me a dime for them? But Greg was like that. If he could steal it he would steal it. It finally got to the point I wouldn’t let him in my apartment and he finally stopped coming around.

 

He showed up at Exit 16 a few times, I saw Susan at the YMCA and she and her husband tried to help him, and honestly, Susan was a saint and so was her husband. I remembered him from the 80’s too, and he hated me, and he hated Greg a thousand times worse. Yet he was willing to try, but Greg had disappeared again, likely arrested, and it was a while before I saw him again.

 

Greg was going to college when I first met him. He was dating Susan, who was a very decent human being, and very pretty, too. In the space of just a couple of years, he was living out of his car, and then, suddenly, he was on foot, wandering and stealing, and homeless. He did stupid things, got arrested often, and one cop broke his jaw. Greg mumbled after that, because he never got his jaw set right, and the last time I saw him he was selling gasoline at a gas station. Greg was upfront with me about how he conned people out of money. He would go to a gas station with a two gallon can and ask people for fifty cents worth of gas, a dollar’s worth, just to get his car going, his family was stranded, he told that worked really well, and then when he got a full can he would try to sell the gas for a dollar. He got the hell beat out of him, he told me, because he sold someone two gallons of a mixture of gas and water. He learned not to go back to the same places too often after that. Greg told me he passed out under an overpass one night and was attacked by fireants. He stripped off his clothes to get the ants off of him, and stood there naked by the interstate, picking ants off his skin. Did he see that coming? Did he realize at some point in time this sort of thing would happen? Did he not realize that there would be terrible things, awful things, inhuman things and worse, that would happen to him?

 

“Skeet me some gas in that can, boy,” the man says to me, as he puts a two gallon jug down beside me, and then he turns and yells at the people across the bay from me, and I can tell by the way they’re looking at him, and looking at me, that they have no idea who this guy is. It’s not Greg, but a younger version of him. He’s trying to simply barge his way into people giving him gas, and I can tell by the smell he’s been on the road for too long. Honest hardworking sweat isn’t offensive but someone who simply hasn’t bathed and has been walking the roads smells like it. It’s a chemical smell, devoid of humanity in a way, as if he’s replaced his blood with cheap beer and junk food. He’s pretending to talk to the other people, who are not responding, and they’ve given him enough gas to fill half the jug, so he’s doing well. I have no idea what his angle on this might be, and I simply do not care.

I start to put the hose up and he steps in like he’s going to take it away from me. “Hey, Boy,” he begins but I’m not interested. I squeeze the handle and gas gushes out, and all over him. “Get the fuck away from me.” I tell him, and I’m serious. He starts cussing like hell, but backs away from me, and he realizes that he’s a spark away from being a human Roman Candle. I’m mad as hell. I’m mad as hell that Gayle tried as hard as she did and died alone and afraid. I’m mad that Greg threw away his life on cocaine and petty theft. I’m mad as hell that this guy is running some sort of scam, and expects people to allow him to feed off on them. People like this are the reason people like me won’t help the homeless more than we do, and I am mad at myself for stereotyping homeless people because of people like him.

 

I pull away and he’s yelling and cussing but at least he doesn’t smell like the road anymore. It looks like it might rain, and he can stand out in it and get the gasoline off of him. I have this thought as I look at him in the rearview mirror. I smell like gas now, too, but I can let the windows down and it will pass. I will go home and shower. I have an insect bite on my leg that is oozing right now and I can feel it itching, but I have something for that, too.

 

I wonder who that guy is, and how he got where he is, and why, at the end of the day, I only made things worse for him.

 

Take Care,

Mike